ARLINGTON – The last time the Capitals played the New York Islanders and former coach Barry Trotz, first place was on the line in the Metropolitan Division.
That game on Jan. 18 ended in a 2-0 home loss and Washington hasn’t been tied for first place since. There is an opportunity tonight though when the Capitals visit the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington Plus). They can tie New York in points with a regulation victory.
The two teams have split their two games this season. Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck scored for New York in the third period in that Jan. 18 win and the Capitals managed just 19 shots on goal. That loss came in the midst of a seven-game losing streak for Washington. The Capitals are 9-4-1 since that streak ended, however. This pivotal game could decide the division title. They do play one more time in the regular-season finale at Capital One Arena on April 6.
Glass Case of Emotion
Forgive Islanders fans if they’re a little riled up. Last night marked the return of former captain John Tavares, who left the team last summer to sign with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. His first game back in New York against the Islanders featured jerseys burned in effigy, derisive chants and a 6-1 win. Expect that emotion to carry over into a game against the Capitals.
New York is playing the rest of its home games this year at revamped Nassau Coliseum and not at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which has been their primary home since 2015. The Capitals played the last meaningful games at Nassau before this season during a 2015 Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Islanders that they eventually won in seven games. The fans in New York haven’t forgotten.
Doesn’t matter who the Islanders play in goal. Both Robin Lehner and Thomas Griess have been outstanding all season. Lehner leads the NHL with a .931 save percentage and Griess is third at .928. They are a rare true tandem with 34 starts for Lehner, who beat Toronto on Thursday, and Griess getting 29. He had the shutout Jan. 18 in Washington. Meanwhile, Braden Holtby has received steadier play in front of him since the All-Star break and stopped 303 of 330 shots (.918 save percentage, 2.72 goals-against average) for Washington.
The Capitals have won two games in a row so no reason to switch things up for now. Trade deadline acquisitions Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen stay in the lineup. Jensen plays with Brooks Orpik on the third pair. Hagelin, the left wing on the fourth line, has yet to make an offensive impact yet. Washington has scored 13 goals in its past two games, but this will be a far harder test than games against Ottawa and the New York Rangers, who are out of playoff contention. The third line has been especially good lately with Brett Connolly (five points) and Andre Burakovsky (three-game point streak) helping center Lars Eller (one goal, two assists).
It will take a big night, but Alex Ovechkin is just four points from 1,200 for his career. That would tie former Capitals forward Dino Ciccarelli. Ovechkin has 44 goals and 30 assists (74 points) and at age 33, with 18 games to go, has a legitimate chance at his first 90-point season since 2009-10.
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